Another week has gone by, and with it, more horrible news of COVID-19 has spread across the world. The United States passed the one million infection mark, and more than 60,000 people have died in that country alone. It has not been a good week.
With that being said, there was a news item or two that offered a little bit of hope in this ever-worsening crisis. COVID-19 does continue to dominate the news landscape, but it’s not the only thing happening right now — it’s just the giant elephant in the room that enjoys sitting on people.
Here’s some stuff that happened you may have missed, and happily, it does include some good news.
10 Saks Fifth Avenue Latest Department Store Closing
Shopping malls in the United States were once ubiquitous, but in recent years, they have been in a steady state of decline. Often, they are bought by corporations like RackSpace and converted into massive office compounds, or they are bulldozed and replaced with something completely different. While most shopping is still done in stores, more and more is done online, and brick & mortar stores are feeling the pinch. Anchor stores in malls are being hit by the changes in consumer spending more than most chains, and yet another brand has taken the bankruptcy path.
Saks Fifth Avenue has joined Macy’s, JCPenny, and Neiman Marcus in bankruptcy filings, which spells doom for malls in America. An anchor store is one of those big ones like Sears (bankruptcy) and the aforementioned, which act as the primary go-to for shoppers. Typically, they would head into the mall for other things, which made the anchor stores vital to a mall’s overall survival, but they are heading the way of the Dodo bird. Saks was forced to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy after missing payments on at least two commercial mortgage-backed securities, which originated in 2015. That missed payment impacted 34 properties, which include 10 Saks and 14 Lord & Taylor stores.
9 Win For Gun Rights In New York
The US Supreme Court released several important decisions this week, with one decision about the Affordable Care Act resulting in a loss for the GOP. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued the majority opinion with the following statement, “We conclude that §1342 of the Affordable Care Act established a money-mandating obligation, that Congress did not repeal this obligation, and that petitioners may sue the Government for damages in the Court of Federal Claims.” Essentially, this means that the government owes more than $12 billion to insurers in accordance with the law.
The decision came with an 8-1 majority, leaving Justice Alito as the sole dissenter. Another decision made by the court was important in the world of gun rights, though it was more of a lack of decision than anything else. In a 6-3 vote, the court opted to issue an unsigned opinion related to a gun rights law in New York City and state that limited a person’s right to carry a weapon outside the city to shooting ranges. Since the challenge was issued to the court, the law was changed to allow exactly that, so there wasn’t a need for the case to tie up the court, leaving the issue of gun rights in America an ongoing issue for the future.
8 Prime Minister Boris Back To Work
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was infected with COVID-19 last month, and he had to spend nearly the full six-week lockdown in self-isolation with some of that time spent in intensive care. Fortunately, the PM did not succumb to the disease, and on Monday, he was back at work. Johnson was mostly absent during the lockdown period, so the news of his return is a signal of better things to come in the United Kingdom, as he was one of the highest-profile cases in the country aside from Prince Charles, whose bout with COVID-19 wasn’t as severe.
There’s more good news for Johnson, as he and his fiancé, Carrie Symonds, announced on Wednesday that Carrie had given birth to a baby boy. A spokesperson for the couple reported that both the mother and baby are doing “very well.” The birth marked the second time in less than two months that Johnson publically thanked England’s National Health Service, and for good reason. Johnson personally thanked the “fantastic NHS maternity team” for their work in helping the as-yet-unnamed baby boy into the world. This is Johnsons’s sixth child, and Symond’s first.
7 New Zealand Has “Eliminated” COVID-19
Some rare good news about COVID-19 came out this week on Monday, thanks to an announcement made by Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s Director-General of Health. It has been reported that New Zealand “eliminated” the coronavirus in the country, which isn’t to say it’s completely gone. What it does mean is that the number of cases has dropped so low, New Zealand has been able to lift restrictions from the nation’s “level four” to “level three.” It’s been able to do this because of strict contact tracing and other mitigation efforts.
The number of new cases in the country has dropped to the single-digit territory. Through contact tracing, the government made the call to relax restrictions to hopefully bring daily life back to normal. Bloomfield elaborated on how the low number “does give us confidence that we’ve achieved our goal of elimination, which — that never meant zero, but it does mean we know where our cases are coming from. Our goal is elimination. And again, that doesn’t mean eradication, but it means we get down to a small number of cases so that we are able to stamp out any cases and any outbreak that might come out.”
The relaxed restrictions will open up gatherings to ten people or less, and the beaches will be opened. Museums, gyms, and libraries will remain closed until a reassessment is made on May 11th.
6 US GDP Crashes
One of President Donald Trump’s key successes leading into 2020 was the economic growth the country has seen during his time as President. In fact, the US had a record period of growth, but COVID-19 has completely derailed it, and as the numbers rolled out on Wednesday, it seemed clear the trend would continue in a downward trajectory. The estimates being thrown around before the release were between -4% to -11%, and in the end, the GPD for the US shrank by 4.8%, which is fortunately on the lower end of expectations.
That’s the sharpest decline since the Great Recession more than a decade ago, and it brings to a close the longest period of economic expansion in the nation’s history. Unfortunately, Wednesday’s numbers don’t include the full impact COVID-19 has had on the economy, as it only takes into account the first quarter, which saw the beginning of lockdowns that continued through April. Once those numbers are factored into the second-quarter GDP, the economy may shoot through recession territory and head straight for a depression. The biggest impact on the GDP came with the loss of consumer spending, which dropped 7.6% during the first quarter.
5 Kim Jong-Un MIA . . . Kinda
Last week, it seemed as if the reclusive leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea had succumbed to a botched surgery, but new details have emerged, which suggest otherwise. Granted, the information gleaned from the secretive state is limited, and much of what is being reported is hearsay and should be taken with a grain of salt, but the news media is working with what they have available. In an address to the nation, Trump was asked about the leader, whom he’s bragged about having a good relationship with, and he answered with the following:
“I can’t tell you exactly. Yes, I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now. I just wish him well, I’ve had a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un.”
While that doesn’t tell the public much about what the US President knows, there have been other indications that the North Korean leader is alive and well. A satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows a compound on April 21st, which depicts activity at the Wonsan luxury complex, where his yacht and other indications of his presence could be seen. Kim was last seen publicly on April 11th, and rumors of his status have been circling ever since.
4 US To Recognize Annexation Of West Bank Territory
On Monday, the United States signaled that it was ready to officially recognize Israel’s annexation of occupied territories in the West Bank. In doing so, the US requested that the new unity government negotiate with the Palestinians, who have been staunchly opposed to the plan. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has worked with President Trump to make the two-state solution a reality and has indicated that he will continue with the drive for annexations now that he has been able to form a government following a deal made with his opposition.
The Palestinians have said they will close off any option of a two-state solution if the plans for annexation continue their present course. Palestinians have been vocally unsupportive of the plan outlined as Trump’s Middle East “vision,” which he unveiled in January. Despite the opposition, the US is moving forward, and released the following statement via the US State Department on Monday, “As we have made consistently clear, we are prepared to recognize Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty and the application of Israeli law to areas of the West Bank that the vision foresees as being part of the State of Israel.”
3 Pentagon Released UFO Videos
On Tuesday, the Pentagon released declassified footage of three UFOs. The footage was taken by US military personnel in 2007 and 2017, and the release included three short and grainy clips. The footage was previously leaked, and this release by the Pentagon is an official confirmation of their authenticity. What’s so interesting about the footage isn’t the strange aerial maneuvers, which seem unworldly; it’s the fact that the release garnered very little attention from the public or media.
This is the first time the US Department of Defense has released footage of objects it classified as UFOs, and that should have been big news. The release came with a statement justifying it, in which the Pentagon said, “After a thorough review, the department has determined that the authorized release of these unclassified videos does not reveal any sensitive capabilities or system […] DOD is releasing the videos in order to clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real.”
The videos aren’t confirmation of the existence of aliens, but they certainly do appear to depict unearthly aerial movements, which defy a more terrestrial explanation.
2 Lockdown Unleashes Mega-Unemployment In US
Every week, the US Labor Department releases a report, which includes the number of new unemployment claims made, and Thursday’s report puts that number at 3.8 million. That number pushes the six-week total of new unemployment claims to 30.2 million. The nation hasn’t seen such an increase in unemployment since the Great Depression, which saw the jobless rate rise to 25%. While the numbers this week are high, they do show a decreasing trend, as last week’s jobless claim topped out at 4.44 million.
Jerome Powell, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, noted that the current jobless rate has reached “double digits” when the numbers for March are taken into consideration. The current reported rate is 4.4%, but that number doesn’t include the continued increase in claims seen through March and April. Powell said the number would likely rise above 10% into the second quarter, but there is a possible break in the storm on the horizon. With several states beginning to relax restrictions, furloughed employees are beginning to return to work, which should see jobless claims declining into May and June.
On the other hand, not everyone is struggling . . .
1 America’s Rich Are Getting Richer
One of the first things to impact Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic was the immediate loss of work and income. Millions of people were suddenly fired or furloughed, as their places of employment were shut down to stop the spread of the virus. Congress acted relatively quickly in passing the CARES act, which issued economic stimulus payments to citizens with the hope that the money would help people get through to the end of the lockdown, but some see it as too little, too late, and many people are struggling. That’s true for many Americans, but according to a report from the Institute for Policy Studies, not all citizens are facing such economic hardship.
The report, titled, “Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes, and Pandemic Profiteers” was published on April 23rd, and it showed an increase in net worth for America’s billionaires in excess of $282 billion over a period of just 23 days during the nationwide lockdown. The report further analyzed several billionaires’ tax burdens and concluded that between 1980 and 2020, the tax obligations for billionaires in America dropped by 79%. When compared to the median household wealth, which saw an increase of less than 5% in the past 30 years, billionaires’ wealth increased by 1,110%, which collectively accounts for $2.95 trillion. Thank God ultra-luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman isn’t one of the shops shutting down in New York!
+ McDonald’s Begins Rationing
Due to the Coranvirus, abattoirs and slaughterhouses around the world have shut down. This would be find if the various lockdowns were brief . . . but they are starting to go on just a little too long for the meat supply chain.
Today, as the US supply of meat begins to dwindle, McDonald’s placed a number of goods on “controlled allocation”; the goods being rationed are primarily burgers, bacon, and sausage. McDonald’s CEO has said that the state of the meat industry was “concerning” and that the company was “monitoring it, literally, hour by hour.” Meanwhile, beef prices have risen 62% since February. If you have a hankering for McDonald’s and your state hasn’t locked you in your home, you better get to a fast food joint pronto!